Tim Kennedy had an impressive Army career: Ranger qualified, Green Beret, Special Forces Sniper. Since he separated, he's pursued a career as an MMA fighter and now he's the host of the Discovery Channel's excellent new series "Hard to Kill."
Tim aims to learn about jobs that require men and women to risk life and limb and wants to find out how they do their jobs. Unlike most other documentary/reality shows these days, "Hard to Kill" really digs into the science and technical skills that these jobs require. There's no manufactured conflict or confessions to the character. Tim is really interested in the details that can make the difference between life and death.
Tim talked to us about the show and why he believes these jobs are so important. "Hard to Kill" expects you to pay attention and doesn't dumb down the action. Kennedy tells us why.
What inspired you to serve?
A bunch of assholes flew some planes into some buildings and it pissed me off. So I walked down to the recruiters office on 9/11 and I said, hey, I want to be a Special Forces sniper/Navy SEAL/Ranger. And I didn't have a problem with the recruiter.
So he kind of laughed and took me aside and took care of it.
Did he guide you to the Army or did you make that decision on your own?
Nah. I was researching what was going to be the best and fastest way to get into combat as the war was developing. It looked like since Vietnam the Green Berets were the guys who were first in, first ones in the fight, sometimes even first in before the fight. They tried to shape what the battlefield would ultimately look like.
That's why I chose being in Special Forces. I was able to get into 18 XRAY, which is Special Forces Recruit Contract, and I was able to go directly to Special Forces from infantry school.
When did you actually land in Afghanistan?
I was able to get through the Q Course quickly. I was able to kind of cheat my way out of language school and I took a shortened version of everything. Once I got to Special Forces, to my unit in 7th Special Forces Group, like four months later, in 2005, I was in combat.
I was able to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 7th Group, we're a South American unit, so we would rotate between a combat tour to a mission down in South America to a combat tour to a mission in South America, pretty much nonstop for the whole entire time.
This is an observation, probably a compliment. You aren't eager to rattle off the details of your service as quickly as some guys I've talked to. Is that modesty, or what's going on here?
I think it's that I am surrounded by a bunch of people that are better at everything that I do. Or everything that I should be doing, they do better. So it's not really modesty and it's not humility; it's maybe just getting humbled so often, so frequently, that every time that I try to look like the best or the brightest or the most brilliant or toughest, it gets put back in my face. I fought for two world titles and I've never been the world champion, which means I lost both of those world titles.
I've been in some of the most elite units within special operations. Coming back from deployments overseas, being truly with the most elite units within Special Forces, I had my team sergeant say, "Hey, bro, you suck at this Army stuff, so you're gonna go to Ranger School. If you don't come back as an honor grad, then you can't come back to this team."
So it's not feigned humility. This is maybe a lifetime of being humbled. There's a large community that I'm representing and arrogance is not accepted well there and overconfidence is punished horribly. So it's a little bit of a community thing and it's a little bit of a hard lesson learned, that I don't like learning, that apparently I'm too stupid to ever learn because I keep getting re-taught it.
I think we've found something that you're incredibly good at, and that's hosting this show. What brought you to Discovery Channel and how did you get involved with "Hard to Kill"?
This goes back to the military a little bit. We go overseas and we do horrible things sometimes. The reason that we're doing all this is for this bigger ideal, this American way of life, the American dream. We're doing these things to make that possible.
What does that look like? That's my kids being able to get up and go to school and then go to college and then get a job and then buy a house and be able to have drinkable water and food for their families and live out their dreams and repeat. The only way that's possible is that we have people doing these crazy jobs that nobody knows about.
There's a dude in midland Texas that gets up at 2:00 in the morning and he works for 14 hours every single day for 30 days straight, driving a drill straight down into the earth to get us oil. If he makes a mistake, it's going to blow up and kill everybody with him. If the shaft breaks, he's going to get fired and then he's starving. He's not going get another job within the industry because he's destroyed his reputation.
Or there's a guy in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico that's welding a pipe. If he cuts too deeply, it's going suck him inside of it and liquify his body as the negative pressure inside sucks him into it.
And there's a guy climbing a cell tower to change a lightbulb and there's a girl scaling the side of a skyscraper to wash a window. There's somebody who's flying some medication over the freaking Arctic Ocean to a family living in the bushes of Alaska.
These are real people that do these jobs and that's the American dream, right? I think that's the reason why a lot of us have gone and done these difficult things, so that dream can be a reality.
Here's a show that gives us a snapshot, that lets us walk in the boots of these men and women who do these jobs that nobody knows about, that nobody appreciates, that nobody has ever understood.
I do these jobs for two weeks and it takes me a month of rehab to fix the damage that I do. Hypothermia just doesn't go away. It freaking sucks for a little bit. Soft-tissue damage when you get frozen in an avalanche doesn't just fix itself overnight. It's not like you got a scab and you get better. You're like, "Ugh, I still can't feel my fingers or my toes," so that sucked.
Getting hit by a bull, that sucks, just period. There's not an explanation or an elaboration. Oh, it's a 2000-pound animal running me over. Or when you're trapped inside of a cockpit that's on fire, that you can't get out of, and having your seatbelt melt and then your shirt melts and then your seat melts. And you still can't get out and you can't breathe. That also sucks.
It's all for this reason: This is America. This is the dream and there are people who do this every single day so we have it easy. And f**k, this show is amazing.
I've seen the test pilot episode and it knocked me out. Unlike almost every other one of these shows, yours goes so much deeper into the mechanics and the science and the details of how things actually work. It feels like there's a lot more respect for an audience, that you can tell them what's really happening as opposed to just saying "Wow" after running a flashy video clip. The details make the show.
Right. When I get behind a gun and then I reload my ammo, I measure into .2 grams into grains of bullets so I can break them into lots, right?
So I have a 175-grain bullet. I separate them into 174.8, 175, 175.2, 175.4. And then I reload those to the gram of the powder, to the cloud, to – I've been using the exact same primer for the past ten years.
If I'm going to talk to an audience, I think about the attention to detail that I put into what I'm doing with a freaking bullet that is gonna travel at 2800 feet per second out of an 18-inch barrel.
If that detail is going to determine life or death for me, what is that thing for this job? What is that thing for a pilot, what is that thing for a commercial fisherman?
What floored me was the array, the vastness. It was like I opened pandora's box every time I took on a new job, because it wasn't one thing. It was millions and millions and millions of little, tiny decisions that ultimately determined whether these guys lived or died. And a lot of them die.
One of the episodes is about bush pilots. These pilots fly to deliver medication and food to the people living in the bushes of Alaska. There's thousands of them. And the weather in Alaska is dangerous, clearly the water is freezing cold, the weather pretty much just wants to kill them. Every single animal there wants to eat you.
You read these stories about a guy flying over the Arctic, his helicopter, his R22, his engine gives out. So he crashes his helicopter into the Arctic Ocean. As it's sinking, he's thinks, "Oh, I have to get my survival equipment."
So he dives down into the Arctic Ocean, essentially a free dive, while his helicopter is submerging, to grab his bag, to swim to an iceberg where he has to fight for his survival against polar bears for three days and then he lives. That's a true story. For this dude, it's his job. He wasn't trying to be a Bear Grylls. He was just trying to deliver antibiotics.
Every single one of these jobs has countless stories of men and women doing these things. And it's just that it was humbling, it was sometimes humiliating because I'm not good at these things. I'm good at a lot of things. I'm not good at skiing, but you're gonna put me on top of a mountain where there's an avalanche zone and you're gonna make me ski it? You want a recipe for disaster? There you go. You'll see it. You're going to watch me tumble down this g**damn mountain and get engulfed in f**king snow.
It's because I believe in the process and I believe that the viewers are smarter than they've been treated for the last ten years. To watch this show, you better be, because it's not eye candy. It's about a belief and commitment in these people who do these jobs.
You do a great job of getting these people to trust you and give details about how they work.
Yeah, that's the hardest part. It's real people, it's real lives, it's real jobs. With the commercial fisherman, it's listening to the guy tell the story that he used to have five cousins, now he has two, because the other three are at the bottom of the ocean. He's a third-generation fisherman, but he never grew up with his grandfather because grandpa went over the side of the boat. When he hit the drink, nobody ever saw him again.
You look at guys who are missing fingers on their hands. What happened? And they're like, "It was a Tuesday." F**k. And it's hard to talk about those things. I don't want to talk about the times I got blown up or the times I saw my friends get hurt or the times that I had to hurt somebody. I never want to talk about those things.
But the experiences these people have are important in understanding their lives and their jobs. Fortunately, they are as brave in front of a camera as they are on a ship or on a boat or in an aircraft, and they give us a glimpse into what their lives look like, and it's humbling.